At 55 years of age, Darren Durant is proof that it’s never too late to pursue your passion.
A registered Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA), Darren is using the training he’s receiving at The Culinary School to combine his love for caring and cooking.
He learned about the program through a flyer on the bulletin board at a local organization. He contacted Food Bank of Delaware Workforce Training Program Manager Jessica Neal to inquire and learned that funding is available for veterans, so he went to the Delaware Department of Labor and met with an official who works specifically with the population.
He was accepted into The Culinary School and received funding for the 14-week training program.
Darren entered the culinary training program with some past kitchen experience. He spent four years in the United States Navy in the mid 80s; six months were spent in the galley.
After leaving the military, Darren obtained his CNA license in 1988.
He admits that working as a CNA was hard work. “It’s a hard profession, it’s really hard,” he says.
In 1995, he started working at the Olive Garden as a busser and eventually moved to the kitchen doing prep work. Throughout the years, Darren has held a variety of jobs. Most recently, he worked at a Thai restaurant washing dishes and doing some prep work.
Starting The Culinary School did not come without reservations.
“At my age, I was a little nervous to step towards this field, because people look at you and think ‘you’re old, you’re not going to be able to keep up,'” he says. “I have found myself running circles around some of these young ones. Grandpa has this. ‘I can keep up with you and you,’ so I’m doing something okay.”
In addition to his age, Darren was concerned about transportation. Thankfully, through a partnership with Connections, the Food Bank of Delaware is able to pick up each student up from their home.
“I am so blessed that you guys provide the transportation, otherwise it might have been an issue, and I hate getting something started and not being able to follow through,” he explains.
Darren’s previous experience with kitchen prep is helping him through the 14-week training program at the Food Bank.
He says he learned a lot while working at the Olive Garden. “Chef is picking up on it [his previous experience],” he says. “He picked me out and asked me to help someone. That made me feel good. I am a helping person. I have always been.”
Darren is learning new techniques and says the experience has been “wonderful” so far.
He says he doesn’t have a favorite recipe to prepare in the kitchen, but he does enjoy eating! His favorite meal – fried chicken, collard greens and strawberry cheesecake for dessert.
The Culinary School is preparing Darren for employment so he can get back on his feet. Currently, he is living in a home for veterans at 9th and Washington Streets in Wilmington. “They help us,” he points out. “They give us free rent for up to a year, so we can try to find a job or go to school to better ourselves.”
Darren is able to stay in the veterans home until April 2019. “I had the opportunity to take the culinary class at Deltech, but it’s a longer program,” he explains. “I basically decided I wanted to do this class because it’s a short amount of time. I can get out of class and still have until April to leave the house. That way I can find a job, and I can start saving my money for when that time comes. I set my goals like that so that I will be able to take care of myself.”
In addition to kitchen and classroom work, Darren enjoys the opportunity to interact with his peers and the Food Bank of Delaware staff. “Everybody… not just the teachers. I mean everybody… everybody you run into, they always have a smile,” he says. “If I come in down and out, they lift my spirits. I look forward to getting up every day to come to class… I hate to graduate, but I cant’ stay here.”
Upon graduation, Darren hopes to secure a job at a hospital or nursing home so he can continue to use his nursing background.
“I love to cook, and I love taking care of people,” he explains.
“I wouldn’t be able to do any of this without the Food Bank and Jessica [Workforce Training Program Manager], whom I love very much. I call her mom. I am probably older than her though,” he says.
Darren is thankful for the opportunity and will make sure others who need the services of The Culinary School know about the program.
“I will make sure wherever I am, if I know somebody that needs what you guys have given me, I will let them know,” he says.
Interested in a career in the food service industry? Click here to learn more about The Culinary School.